Google Your Desktop

Google Desktop is the best personal search engine that money can't buy.

Keeping track of files isn’t easy and can be quite frustrating. If you’re one of the normal* people, you have trouble finding files on your system. And, you’re also relatively normal if you aren’t a fan of the find command and its regular expressions, irregular syntax, and infinite options. Sure, the find command is powerful but it isn’t user friendly. Google Desktop is friendly, it’s free, and it’s just a download away.

Google Desktop is a local version of Google’s powerful indexing and search system. And, unlike other such solutions, this one won’t slow down your computer. Why? Because you create a master index once and then work from that index by adding or removing entries. And, it’s all automatically performed in background with no intervention required from you.

The system used in this demonstration is Ubuntu 10.10

The Basics

Point your browser to the Google Desktop for Linux download page, click the Download Google Desktop button, select your package type and platform from the list, click the Accept and Install button, and save the file.

Note that Google Desktop requires glibc 2.3.2+ and gtk+ 2.2.0+.

The file package you downloaded should have a name similar to google-desktop-linux-current_amd64.deb. To install, use the dpkg command.

$ sudo dpkg -i google-desktop-linux-current_amd64.deb

RPM-based distros require you to use rpm for installation.

$ sudo rpm -i google-desktop-linux-current_amd64.rpm

The package installs to /opt/google/desktop by default. After the package successfully installs, you’ll find it under Applications->Google Desktop in your menus. There you’ll find two entries: Google Desktop and Google Desktop Preferences.

As soon as Google Desktop installation completes and the services start, Google Desktop indexes the default file locations listed in its configuration. Figure 1 shows that the indexing process is underway. To see this page, perform a Desktop search in your web browser. Refresh the page to see updated statistics. This process can take some time to complete, so be patient. This is a one-time index. Google Desktop keeps your index current after this initial mass index by ‘watching’ your indexed folders for changes.

Figure 1: Google Desktop Index Status
Figure 1: Google Desktop Index Status

Google Desktop Setup

To change the default file index locations, select Google Desktop Preferences from the menu to configure Google Desktop according to your preferences. See Figure 2. Google Desktop Preferences opens a local HTML page on TCP port 33212.

Figure 2: Google Desktop Index File and Location Options
Figure 2: Google Desktop Index File and Location Options

On the Local Indexing tab, change your file type preferences, file locations, enter any search exclusions, and check to remove deleted files from your searches. The Gmail tab allows you to index your Gmail account email. Use the Display tab to set your visual preferences for Google Desktop. Note that you can set your hotkey preference for the Quick Search box. The default key sequence is Left Ctrl + Right Ctrl. Repeat the Left Ctrl + Right Ctrl key sequence to hide the Quick Search Box. Quick Search is a smart applet that searches your index as you type a search term. There is an example of the Quick Search function in the “Using” section.

The Other tab properties have nothing to do with Google Desktop preferences. It’s a single entry page that asks you to participate in improving Google Desktop by sending anonymous data and crash reports to Google.

Using Google Desktop

After you’ve installed, indexed, and setup your preferences, it’s time to learn how to use Google Desktop. If you’ve used Google’s online search engine, you’re already familiar with how it works. In the upper right corner of your Desktop, you’ll see the Google Deskop icon. Right click the Google Desktop icon to see some of your options, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Using the Google Desktop Icon Menus
Figure 3: Using the Google Desktop Icon Menus

This menu allows you to select a default search type for the current search or for any search. You can change it as often as you need to. Once you’ve decided on a default search type, select the Show Home Page option. Figure 4 shows the search “home” page and the results of a search. Unfortunately, these local web-based searches are not as intuitive as Google’s online searches.

Figure 4: Google Desktop Web Search
Figure 4: Google Desktop Web Search

For a more intuitive search, the Quick Search box is the preferred method. It also yields more precise results. For example, searching for the term, “Figure” returned 57 hits on my system and none were the pictures of interest nor were the result case-sensitive. I had to search for “FigureA” before any relevant hits were found. The Quick Search found all instances of “Figure” as you can see in Figure 5.

Figure 5: Google Desktop's Quick Search Box in Action
Figure 5: Google Desktop’s Quick Search Box in Action

Should you feel compelled to re-index your system, you can do so at any time by right-clicking the Google Desktop icon and selecting Index from the menu. You have the options of pausing a current index, re-indexing your system, or seeing the current status of your index operation. Select the Re-index option from the menu. The message shown in Figure 6 appears providing a warning about how long an index might take and an “Are you sure…” option.

Google Desktop is a personal search engine that enables you to search for your own content efficiently. It’s like having your own version of Google’s powerful search engine running on your computer. And, it has a lot of the same features as Google’s Enterprise Search engine but at no cost. It also won’t slow your system to a crawl when indexing nor does it re-index at inconveniently regular intervals. Google Desktop is fast, free, and just what you need when you don’t want to find yourself searching at the command line.

* Normal is a relative term and highly subjective. In this context you should read, “normal as perceived by Ken Hess.”

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